So Malaysia was interesting, foreign and different – but I decided that before traveling on to Sumatra I needed a more relaxing break in a familiar place. For me, that’s Thailand. I’ve visited three times now and can’t seem to get away. And Koh Lipe didn’t let me down – as soon as I stepped off the ferry and onto the longtail boat making its way through turquoise water, I knew I was back in the land of amazing Penang curry (not available in Penang…), awesome diving and Thai massages, and suddenly — I was on vacation.
I’ve heard enough about Koh Lipe losing its charm, becoming overdeveloped, dirty and “inauthentic” (whatever that means) and not the same as it was 5, 10, 15 years ago when it was perfect and pristine and Thailand’s best kept secret. I may have missed the brunt of the high season, but Lipe is still the least developed of the Thai islands I’ve seen (Samui, Phangan, Tao, Phi Phi).
Does this look like a spoiled paradise… or just paradise?
Also, the many new businesses popping up around the island give it an energy I don’t find to be a bad thing. A couple of women from San Francisco came to visit Lipe eight months ago and decided to stay indefinitely. They’ve opened an SF-style coffee & book shop that looks like it’s been around for years, and serve amazing Western stuff they’ve already taught their Thai chefs to put together:
My two favorite night spots on the island also each opened a month ago. Home Bar is right in the middle of the island, and the owner, Nor, has spent a lot more time decorating the place with its reggae/Rasta theme than marketing. I checked it out during the day and came back one night with Maggie (a German girl I met) where we chilled with the one Russian couple already there. It’s crazy how it has such a good vibe even though it’s still empty!
The other place is Tattoo Bar, run by a tattoo artist called Mom (yes, Mom-approved tattoos) and his temporary assistant, a young Finnish guy, Henry. It’s right along the island’s “Walking Street” and it’s the only island bar that forces everyone to sit together by design, so it’s a very friendly spot.
As for diving, I only did one day trip, but the two dives were the longest I’ve logged – around an hour each! I’m glad I got to do a review before heading to Sumatra and other places there might be a smaller selection of dive shops. Koh Lipe is known more for small, colorful fish and rich coral reefs than for anything big and exciting, but it didn’t disappoint. The soft coral was the most spectacular I’ve seen, particularly at the site they call Stonehenge. We got attacked by what seemed like an endless “soup” of jellyfish on the way down, but even with stings all over our faces it was worth it. There were some huge porcupinefish with hilarious expressions who seemed very happy to be living on what looks like the set of Finding Nemo (there were tons of his relatives around, too).
In the end, I spent six full days on Koh Lipe, more than I’ve spent on any other island. Normally I find that more than enough time to be on the beach, but toward the end of my stay I felt like I was just getting to know the place and would have been happy to stick around. I also learned that my dive instructor from two years ago and my cousin in Russia are both on their way to the island in the next few weeks! Who knows, maybe I’ll be back sooner than I thought…